Twimonisha Mason opened her Amityville restaurant in 2017 to offer delicious soul food at a place that paid homage to her late mother.
Business has gone well at Winnie’s International Takeout this year, thanks in part to changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Mason said she will open a second location in Massapequa by January.
"That’s always been the goal … to have Winnie’s in every town," she said.
The new restaurant will open in a former Checkers fast-food restaurant space at 5070 Sunrise Hwy.
Mason, 43, of Amityville, graduated from the now-defunct Culinary Academy of Long Island in Syosset in 2014.
Her training and longtime love of cooking translated into her own business, she said. She also was influenced by her mother, Winsome "Winnie" Alexander, a Jamaican immigrant who could throw down in the kitchen with flavorful foods from her homeland, she said.
Alexander, who died of breast cancer in 2009, was a phenomenal cook known for her macaroni and cheese, candied yams and collard greens, said Mason, who incorporated some of her mother’s recipes into the menu at the restaurant.
Mason is the main chef at Winnie’s International Takeout, where her husband, Terrance Mason, also is a cook, as well as the bookkeeper and manager. The couple’s oldest son and a cousin also cook at the restaurant.
While Winnie’s specializes in soul food, the eatery also offers other types of fare, such as Italian (shrimp scampi, shrimp alfredo and chicken alfredo) and Caribbean (oxtails and jerk chicken).
"We have something for everyone’s palate. … "That’s why it’s international, because it’s such an array of items on the menu," Mason said.
I think there is a shortage of good soul food on Long Island.
One of the well-known soul food restaurants on the Island was LL Dent, which closed in Carle Place last year after 13 years in business. There are few others, and one of the reasons is that black-owned businesses face more barriers accessing capital than their peers do, which is exacerbated by the high cost of doing business on Long Island.
Black-owned businesses start with about 1/3 less capital than their white peers and have a hard time getting private investments from mainstream investment sources, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
"We didn’t get any help from anywhere. We didn’t get any loans," said Terrance Mason, 40. "We sold everything we owned to get to where we are right now."
The Amityville restaurant was breaking even, sometimes struggling, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit — and things changed, he said.
Located at 179 Broadway, the Amityville restaurant has few seats outside, as will the Massapequa eatery, but most of the business is takeout, Twimonisha Mason said. That helped the restaurant weather what could have been a downturn in business during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when dine-in restaurant service in New York state was prohibited under a mandate started in March by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to help stop the spread of the virus.
"We never had to really change up our format because we always did takeout," Twimonisha Mason said.
Sales are up 50% over the last 12 months, she said.
Stronger sales are expected at the business' Massapequa location, which has a double drive-thru and is in a higher-traffic area than the Amityville restaurant, Terrance Mason said.
Still, there are challenges to running a business with a small staff, Twimonisha Mason said.
"Just making sure I’m there and just having a consistent recipe and food service" are at the top of the list, she said.
She considers the biggest success Winnie’s ability to give back through the donations of food or money for schools and community groups, she said.
The 1,000-square-foot Massapequa building that the second restaurant will occupy has been vacant since around April 2014, said Chris Ferencsik, a real estate agent at Melville-based Schacker Realty who represented the landlord.
In 2018, I wrote about Franchisee AB Smoothies LLC signing a lease to open a Smoothie King franchise at the former Checkers spot in August of that year.
"They ended up selling all of the locations that they operated and never moved forward with opening this one," Ferencsik said Thursday.
Retail Roundup is a column about major retail news on Long Island — store openings, closings, expansions, acquisitions, etc. — that is published online and in the Monday paper. To read more of these columns, click here. If you have news to share, please send an email to Newsday reporter Tory N. Parrish at email@example.com.